Meet the Kent man with a dream portfolio career: award-winning photographer, conservationist, bush-crafter and safari guide – all fuelled by his passion for the wild

Award-winning photographer Laurence Connor loves Kent, the county he was born and bred in – but it’s somewhere rather different that he thinks of as his adopted homeland. During one of his many trips to Africa, he captured the image that won him a British Photography Award 2022 in the Documentary category, taken during the important relocation of a rhino and her calf to a new wildlife reserve in South Africa. Says Laurence, ‘Part of the competition’s remit is to shine a light on conservation issues around the world, and I submitted this work on behalf of the charity, Tusk, which aims to amplify the impact of progressive conservation initiatives across Africa. I wanted to use the image to highlight the need for tourists and volunteers to use discretion when working on conservation projects or enjoying a safari holiday. Anyone taking photos of endangered species needs to make sure their location metadata is removed before they post the image online – otherwise, poachers can and will use the information to track down vulnerable animals for their own ends.’

Great British Life: Laurence ConnorLaurence Connor

So how did 34-year old Laurence, who grew up with his mother and stepfather in Deal and boarded at Cranbrook school, first fall in love with Africa and its wildlife? ‘My Dad was manager of both Tongabezi and Sausage Tree Safari Camps in Zambia – considered to be two of the very best such outfits in the world. From the age of ten, I was visiting him during the school summer holidays, and was entranced by what I encountered there – everything from lions and leopards to elephants and porcupines, and with an extraordinary range of birdlife, all in the most spectacular setting.’

Laurence took A' levels at Sandwich Technical College and considered a career in architecture, but the call of the wild proved irresistible. He was soon in South Africa, taking a year-long course in safari guiding at the Nature College. ‘You learn everything,’ he says, ‘Not just about all the creatures you’re likely to encounter but about safety and – most importantly – about conservation.’

Afterwards, working at the Namibia safari camp, N/a'an ku sê Lodge, Laurence was part of a volunteer programme that allowed visitors to work with animals including baboons, cheetahs and wild dogs. Conservation education for the wider local community was another key part of the initiative. ‘Sometimes what people need to know can seem counter intuitive,’ says Laurence. ‘For instance, if you’re a farmer who sees predators kill your livestock, your natural response might be to kill that predator. In fact, though, it might attack in a predictable, small-scale way – kill it, and you will make way for a predator that could turn out to be far more destructive. There is a big focus on communities working with nature to create more sustainable solutions’.

Great British Life: Majestic lion at rest in Namibia (c) Laurence ConnorMajestic lion at rest in Namibia (c) Laurence Connor

While Laurence was busy working, travelling and learning, he was also starting to take photographs. ‘My Mum gave me my first digital camera before I headed out to Africa – a basic Canon 450D and I just used it, almost without thinking. It was only after a few years and thousands of photographs that I actually started getting to grips with the mechanics of how cameras work. I think in some ways my lack of technical knowledge helped give my photos a spontaneity they might otherwise have lacked.’

By 2010, Laurence had built up a sufficient body of work to stage his first exhibition, held back in Deal at the Astor Theatre. ‘Ever since then, I’ve been able to sell my works, plus I’ve continued to act as a guide at safari camps for most of my working life. Returning to Sausage Tree was especially emotional as I was met from the boat by the very same guide who’d met me as a ten-year-old visiting my Dad – only he was now Head Guide and I was a qualified guide and learning from him!’

Laurence has also set up his own travel company with his stepmother and father, Brelade Travel, offering bespoke guided trips to Africa – and to South America, Oman and Dubai, areas in which he’s also travelled extensively. Closer to home, he’s not forgotten his Kent roots, offering Bushcraft courses within the county when he can. ‘It’s about ensuring people can connect with the wilderness – whether that wilderness is in the plains of Africa or in woodland here in the UK.’

Great British Life: Loxodonta africana, Thanda Game Reserve,KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, A conceptual piece showing the movement of the herd of elephants as they rush down to the waterhole after a long day. (c) Laurence ConnorLoxodonta africana, Thanda Game Reserve,KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, A conceptual piece showing the movement of the herd of elephants as they rush down to the waterhole after a long day. (c) Laurence Connor

To anyone back here in Kent who’s ever experienced wanderlust and the desire to get back to nature, it must sound as if Laurence is living the dream. He’s the first to point out, though, that guiding work can be seasonal and very demanding.

When he’s guiding in Africa, long days with guests include driving and liaising with different conservation teams to find the best animal viewing areas – Laurence has even had to cope with the odd disgruntled elephant: ‘They’re very intelligent animals,' he says. 'If it’s a mother who believes for any reason you’re a threat to her calf, often she’ll bluff charge, in which case, the best thing you can do is crouch down and show you aren’t a threat’.

When he’s in Africa, his photography work is entirely separate from his guiding: ‘I can’t do the two things and one and the same time - each needs my full attention.’

Given his portfolio career and all that it involves, which aspect of his work does Laurence most enjoy? ‘It’s safari life that, for me, offers the most magical of experiences,’ he says. ‘The lower Zambezi, near Sausage Tree, means access to the most wonderful sights on land and on water. It’s a real wilderness waiting to be discovered. Arriving there always feels like I’m coming home.’;